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General Circulation Model (“GCM”)

Filed under: — group @ 28 November 2004 - (Français)

Typically refers to a three-dimensional model of the global atmosphere used in climate modeling (often erroneously called “Global Climate Model”). This term often requires additional qualification (e.g., as to whether or not the atmosphere is fully coupled to an ocean–see ‘Atmosphere-Ocean General Circulation Model’).

The length scales that are resolved in these models is typically on the order of 100s of kilometers (i.e. features that size or smaller are not directly resolved). The timestep for the models (how often the fields are updated) is usually 20 minutes to an hour. Thus in any day there would be 24 to 72 loops of the main calculations.

The basic variables are the temperature, humidity, liquid/ice water content and atmospheric mass. The physics usually consists of advection, radiation calculations, surface fluxes (latent, sensible heat etc.), convection, turbulence and clouds. More elaborate Earth System models often contain tracers related to atmospheric chemistry and aerosols (including dust and sea salt).

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